Vintage Magnus is back – and how! After his somewhat infamous record of 21 successive draws, there may well be no stopping a resurgent Magnus Carlsen now at the 81st Tata Steel Masters, as the world champion, from a completely level endgame, was in relentlessly grinding mode to break the spirit and resolve of ex-world champion Vishy Anand as the Norwegian ace stormed into the sole lead in the tournament going into the home stretch.
Play switched from the tournament’s spiritual home of Wijk aan Zee for the second “on tour” outing for the grandmasters, this time to a more literal spiritual home, namely the Pieterskerk, a late Gothic church in Leiden that’s dedicated to Saint Peter. But if anyone thought the switch would answer their prayers by seeing Carlsen’s spectacular run in the tournament come to a halt, then sadly they were mistaken.
An upbeat and confidant Carlsen hasn’t put a foot wrong in the tournament. And in Round 10, the world champion was at his brilliant “extracting blood-from-stone” form of old, as Anand was put under relentless pressure during a very complex, technical knight ending a pawn down, but having to make a series of “only moves” in order to save the game. At the critical moment, Anand cracked and duly lost.
And with co-leader Ian Nepomniachtchi sensationally also losing to rising Dutch star Jorden Van Foreest, Carlsen’s +4 unbeaten score now gives the Norwegian the sole lead going into the final weekend with three rounds remaining after Thursday’s rest day. But on his tail is another Dutchman giving the locals plenty to cheer about, with Anish Giri only half a point behind the leader after beating Vladimir Fedoseev. And the Tata Steel organisers couldn’t have written the script any better if they tried, as both rivals face each other in the final round!
And as if things weren’t bad enough for one veteran ex-world champion in the tournament after Anand was relentlessly ground down in an equal position, then spare a thought for the other veteran ex-world champion in the field, namely Vladimir Kramnik, once a revered player who could do no wrong at the board, but now losing games at an alarming rate – and with it, haemorrhaging rating points.
In Round 10, Kramnik sensationally crashed to the rising young Indian star Gujrathi Vidit – a result against a sub 2700-player that is bad enough, but this now makes it his fifth loss of the tournament, and it is almost as if we are living in a parallel chess universe with Kramnik languishing firmly at the foot of the table, a full point and a half behind the next player.
Kramnik’s play is simply unrecognisable and he’s clearly out-of-form. With his -5 score, he’s lost almost 26 points to crash out of the top 10, plummeting eight places on the unofficial live rating list to world #15. The pain of the spectacular fall is obvious for all to see – so much so that his fellow Russian over on Chess24.com, Peter Svidler, while reviewing the pairings for Friday’s Round 11, mournfully commented that “Kramnik continues his journey of the soul against Jorden Van Foreest…”
1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 7/10; 2. A. Giri (Netherlands) 6½; 3-5. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Ding Liren (China), V. Anand (India) 6; 6-7. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), G. Vidit (India) 5; 8-11. V. Fedoseev (Russia), S. Shankland (USA), R. Rapport (Hungary), J-K. Duda (Poland) 4½; 12-13. J. Van Foreest (Netherlands), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 4; 14. V. Kramnik (Russia) 2½.
Video: A resurgent Magnus Carlsen fears no-one – not even Anish Giri! | © Tata Steel Chess
GM Gujrathi Vidit – GM Vladimir Kramnik
Tata Steel Masters, (10)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Sämisch variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3 The Sämisch variation is something of are bird at this level of chess, as it is a very aggressive – almost caveman-like – line where White dares to compromise his own pawn structure from early in the game, perhaps even sacrificing a pawn or two, just to open up as many lines as possible to attack Black’s king. It comes with a risk, though, because if the attack backfires in anyway, any endgame scenario can often be to Black’s advantage. 4…d5 5.a3 Bxc3+ By far the best plan – Black has to inflict as much structural damage to White’s pawns as early as he can. 6.bxc3 c5 7.cxd5 exd5 The popular recapture is with 7…Nxd5 – but there’s nothing wrong with Kramnik’s recapture; and indeed, this was favoured by Magnus Carlsen in one of his key wins against Vishy Anand during their 2013 match to capture the world title from the Indian. 8.e3 c4 9.Ne2 Nc6 10.g4 Na5 11.Bg2 Nb3 12.Rb1 In the aforementioned Anand-Carlsen game, Anand instead opted for the alternative of 12.Ra2, the idea being to keep his options open by having his rook challenge the a-file (in case of the queenside pawns storming up the board, as in fact happened in the game) or perhaps swing over to the kingside (doubling rooks perhaps on the f-file, or even Rg2 or h2) for an attack. 12…0-0 13.0-0 b5 14.e4 Although Vidit has played Rb1, with Ra2 on the board instead, Anand didn’t rush things and first played 14.Ng3 and then played g5 – at least this solved the problem with the g4 pawn left hanging – before committing to e4 and the kingside attack. And in that Anand-Carlsen game, Anand missed a key move in a very critical position that dramatically turned what should have been an equal game into a shock quick loss. 14…dxe4 15.fxe4 Nxc1 16.Qxc1 Bxg4 When you are young and adventurous and show no fear, pawns are merely a bagatelle when you are about to throw the kitchen sink at one of the “old guys”. 17.Nf4 Rb8 18.h3 Bd7 Black has a solid position here: He’s a pawn up and also has the better pawn structure. However, White does have more space and mobility for the pawn, and Vidit – with the optimism of youth – now goes for broke with the all-out attack, and his gamble pays off big-time as Kramnik simply crumbles. 19.e5 Ne8 20.Qe3 Rb6 A resourceful move, as Kramnik indirectly defends his a7 pawn whilst the rook has the potential to swing over to the kingside to help defend or perhaps even attack the White king. 21.d5 Nc7?! It all starts to go horribly wrong for Kramnik after this move. A better way to thwart White’s attack was with 21…Qg5!? and the queen is well-placed on g5 to look to trade the queens should the Nf4 move. 22.d6 Ne6 23.Nd5 Ra6 24.Rf5! [see diagram] Vidit isn’t interested in defending his a3-pawn, he just wants to take down the ex-world champion by going for the jugular. 24…Qh4? Perhaps Kramnik simply missed Vidit’s 24.Rf5! move? Now, as it stops in its tracks ideas of Black playing the resourceful …Qg5, and faced with a dilemma, Kramnik goes for the next-to-best queen move, only to find that the White attack has now become an unstoppable tsunami. Sure, it’s a critical position, and Black certainly has an uncomfortable position to defend, but Kramnik needs to hang in with 24…Kh8!? and follow-up with ….Be8 and ..f6 attempting to breakdown the White attack. 25.Rbf1 Vidit’s attack is just overwhelming now, so much so that the position almost plays itself. 25…Rxa3 26.Ne7+ Kh8 27.Rxf7 Rxf7 28.Rxf7 Qh5 29.Qf4 1-0 Kramnik resigns, not wishing to hang around for the mate after 29…h6 30.Rf8+! Nxf8 31.Qxf8+ Kh7 32.Qg8#